$14,595,000: An Anesthesiologist’s Negligence Renders A Promising Young Student Blind

CASE DESCRIPTION: A 24 year old student/lifeguard supervisor went in for a routine 15 minute outpatient surgery to treat an ankle fracture. While under general anesthesia Mr. John C. was inadequately oxygenated or ventilated. As a result Mr. John C. suffered a cardiac arrest and subsequently slipped into a three and one half week coma. Upon awakening he was blind and suffered numerous other physical and mental limitations. Mr. John C. brought suit for medical malpractice. The defense disputed liability and the extent of the damages suffered by the plaintiff.

RESULT: $14,595,760.00 gross verdict.

In 1984 Mr. John C., age 24, went to the hospital to be treated for the ankle he fractured in a moped accident. The treatment involved the placement of pins in his leg to help the fracture heal. The plaintiff contends that during this simple 15 minute outpatient procedure, the defendant Anesthesiologist failed to adequately oxygenate and ventilate the plaintiff while under general anesthesia. Also the anesthesiologist failed to recognize the warning signs of inadequate oxygenation and ventilation, resulting in the plaintiff’s cardiac arrest. The Defendant further ordered the plaintiff to be placed on “room air” (as opposed to supplemental oxygen), there by contributing further to Plaintiff’s injuries. Post-arrest, the Plaintiff remained in a coma for three and one-half weeks. Upon awakening from the coma, Mr. John C. (who had been a healthy 24 year old supervisor of Lifeguards and a magna cum laude graduate from San Diego State University in Finance Management) was blind, and suffered memory lapses as well as loss of tactile coordination/sensory perception.

Plaintiff’s experts claimed that the Defendant breached his standard of care for an Anesthesiologist by inadequately oxygenating and ventilating the patient. In addition he failed to properly recognize and respond to warning signs of the inadequate oxygenation and ventilation. The Defendant further breached the standard of care by causing the plaintiff to go into cardiac arrest, suffer cortical blindness, memory lapse, and tactile/sensory perception deficits. Plaintiff’s experts support their claim by pointing to the fact that the plaintiff has had several prior experiences under general anesthesia with absolutely no difficulty.

While calculating the damages incurred by the plaintiff, his experts took into consideration his past earnings, future earnings, past medical care, future medical care, and general damages. Mr. John C. had just graduated with a 3.76 grade point average (magna cum laude) from San Diego State University in Finance Management. The Plaintiff planned to go and get his Masters degree in Finance. As the experts pointed out, now Mr. John C. will live with cortical blindness, memory lapse, tactile/sensory perception deficit, loss of fine manual coordination.

The defendant Anesthesiologist claimed that Mr. John C. had a pre-existing heart condition, electrolyte imbalance, inordinate release of catecholomines (adrenalin due to anxiety), an allergic reaction to anesthetic, and/or some other “unknown” cause of the incident, as opposed to inadequate oxygenation and ventilation. The Defendant claims to have adequately checked to insure that Mr. John C. was being properly oxygenated and ventilated. Furthermore, Defendant did not place Plaintiff on “room air” subsequent to the arrest.

The defendant provided his own experts who argued that the plaintiff had a pre-existing heart condition and a heart that was inordinately sensitive to release of catecholomines into the blood stream. In addition the plaintiff further had electrolyte imbalance and possibly an allergic reaction to the anesthetic. All or any of the above caused the plaintiff to go into cardiac arrest while under the general anesthetic, as well as the anxiety of having to undergo a surgical procedure.

The defense argued that Mr. John C’s damages were not as severe as plaintiff’s experts have asserted. Mr. John C. had returned to college and was getting A’s in his classes (one class per semester). In addition they argued that Mr. John C. still had significant earning capacity. All of the services he needed would be provided to him at no or little cost. In light of the $250,000 limitation for pain and suffering and in light of his abundant available collateral sources, he suffered minimal economic loss.

TYPE OF CASE: Medical Negligence/Malpractice

INJURIES: Cardiac arrest, permanent cortical blindness, brain damage including memory lapses and loss of manual coordination/sensory perception, loss of past and future earnings, past and future medical care, and general damages.

DATE & LOCATION OF INCIDENT: On 10/24/84 at 7:30 a.m. at Humana Hospital located in Huntington Beach, California.

PLAINTIFF’S AGE: 24 at time of the incident.

OCCUPATION: Student/Lifeguard Supervisor/Grocery Store Clerk


Wylie A. Aitken & Richard A. Cohn

For Plaintiff – John C.

Dennis Wojs
For Defendant – Donald A., M.D.